Did Flickr “Accidentally” Delete Mirco Wilhelm’s Account?

In a blog post entitled “You have to be f****ing kidding Yahoo” Flickr user Mirco Wilhelm is claiming that Flickr “accidentally” deleted his own account when he reported another user for copyright violation. From Wilhelm:

Today I was a bit surprised when trying to log into my Flickr account. It didn’t remember I was logged in, but asked me for my password, knowing who I am. Then I was asked to “create” a Flickr account.

Strange, because I already had an account … for the last 5 years with about 4000 pictures in it!

The it came to me. I did report on a user account that had added me as a contact on sunday only containing obviously stolen material and complaints about having an older deleted account with similar content.

I checked the email I received from the Flickr staff. It only stated, that the account will be checked for irregulations, so I asked if they, by mistake had deleted my account.

Well, it turned out, they actually had.

Wilhelm goes on to state that he actually got an apology note back from Flickr staff for nuking the wrong account.

Hello,

Unfortunately, I have mixed up the accounts and accidentally deleted yours. I am terribly sorry for this grave error and hope that this mistake can be reconciled. Here is what I can do from here:

I can restore your account, although we will not be able to retrieve your photos. I know that there is a lot of history on your account–again, please accept my apology for my negligence. Once I restore your account, I will add four years of free Pro to make up for my error.

Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do.
Again, I am deeply sorry for this mistake.

Regards,

Flickr staff

Unfortunately f you look at Wilhelm’s Flickr account, all of the photos in fact now do appear to be deleted. You can see the Google cache copy of what Wilhelm’s account used to look like (including over 3,400 photos) here for the time being.

If Wilhelm’s claims are true, this is yet another troubling example of bad account deletions at Flickr. It’s terrible to think that as a user I could put thousands of hours into my Flickrstream and have it all disappear one day because a flickr staffer did an oppsie. Not backing up our data upon deletion is irresponsible on Yahoo’s part. It would be very easy for Yahoo to simply code accounts as private for one week prior to permanent deletion in order to avoid these sorts of unfortunate mistakes. Giving someone 4 years of free Flickr Pro does not make up for the destruction of over 3,400 photos and it’s irresponsible for Yahoo to continue operating Flickr in this manner.

I wonder if the Flickr staffer who nuked Mirco’s account had any of those Blake Irving Flickr margaritas prior to pressing the nuke button and if so how many?

Thanks for the heads up Nils!

Update: Wilhelm confirms his account deletion in the comments and adds, “there where close to 4000 photos in there at total, not all of them public, but still it will be a lot of work to rebuild all the web content that used these picture (like my own blogs).”

Update #2: NY Observer picks up the story here.

Update #3: On digg here and here. If you think that Flickr needs to build in a way to restore our accounts over bad deletions vote up there.

Update #4: Flickr Staffer Zack Sheppard says a new feature is coming to Flickr to enable them to restore deleted accounts. It’s about f***ing time. Hopefully they also implement a sane policy of allowing users to take self corrective action regarding Flickr problems with accounts in the future in lieu of permanent deletion.

From Zack:

“We’ve been working on the ability to restore accounts for a while and hope to have it completed early this year.

We have been in contact with Mirco and may be able to restore his account. The partial work that has been done so far may make it possible to retrieve the account. It’s only a maybe but we want to try and do everything we can to rectify this mistake.

Just as people have stated above, we also believe this is an important feature to have in place for cases like this when there was an error. As many of you know we usually do not discuss features before they are released but because of the community concern we wanted to let you know in this case. ”

Flickr also has reached out with similar statements to both the L.A. Times and NY Observer.

Update #5: The story is also now on TechCrunch here and PetaPixel here.

It’s worth noting that a strong push was made for an undo delete function back in August of 2009. At that point though Flickr just locked the thread where people were complaining and dismissed it saying that they were not working on such a feature. Why does it take a major Yahoo/Flickr PR Blunder to get them to finally give a damn?

Update #6: An anonymous commenter claiming to work for Yahoo left the following comment in the comments section of this post. “Iam an yahoo employee and right now we have a backup of the data that we are restoring the photos from. The user should have all the photos back in the next day or so.”

The IP address that they commented from reconciles as coming from headquarters at Yahoo Inc.

Loading Facebook Comments ...
57 comments on “Did Flickr “Accidentally” Delete Mirco Wilhelm’s Account?
  1. Mirco says:

    Thanks for the support.

    There where close to 4000 photos in there at total, not all of them public, but still it will be a lot of work to rebuild all the web content that used these picture (like my own blogs).

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is upsetting. Very, very upsetting. Sending flickr a message or fifty.

  3. Noel says:

    LOL flickr, LOL! We deleted 4,000 photos from the last 1,825 days of your life…here’s $100 for the inconvenience.

    I am sure most users keep copies of all their photo and at least back them up to an external hard drive. Losing everything on flickr would not be the end of the world, but rather a MAJOR inconveninece. The cavalier attitude I have seen from flickr time and time again is strong ammunition for me to not renew my account.

  4. JeffPHenderson says:

    Is it possible to sue Yahoo for negligence?

  5. Nils says:

    When will someone from Flickr/Yahoo finally sit down for an on-the-record, face-to-face video interview to address these issues? Any other company would have been sued out of existence for such negligent behavior by now. They always hide behind the anonymous Flickr Staff, but there’s never any true dialogue. Something for TWIP to pick up?

  6. Sorry to hear this.

    Why they are behaving like this? Why they are not paying attention to human sentiments. Why they can”t simply understand we are human-beings spending our valuable time.

    (£100 and an apology is better than nothing. Considering my situation.)
    Any way today they changed their community guidelines for organisations. (Big fish more money more traffic more business.) Nothing for common public like you and me. Oh yes they said they may change the wordings of their terms.

  7. Miikka says:

    This is so scary that I have to start looking for Google based image storage system. I have pictures hosted in Flickr that are published in several online publications. I have hard enough time making sure LR3 + Flickr don’t re-publish and screw up the URLs. Now if my account got accidentally deleted I would have to spend weeks re-publishing and re-linking all the images. I’m so not looking forward to that. Someone want to get together and start working on Cloud/FB based photo sharing/storage startup?

  8. Wow- that would stink. Although its kind of hard to believe it doesn’t happen more often really. You’d think Flikr would have all that backed up somewhere, wouldn’t they?

    Larry
    plano portrait photographer
    Twitter: @larryphoto

  9. Eple Kjekk says:

    A regrettable error, I agree. But is the Margarita dig really necessary?

  10. Mirco says:

    Thanks again, for the resonance on the web.

    I’m currently uploading some older JPG exports to my Picasa account (http://picasaweb.google.com/mirco.wilhelm/FlickrSNAFUAlbum)

    I will check tomorrow for some new exports, I know I’ve made previously. But it’s already past midnight over here and I have to go a business trip in the morning.

  11. Thomas Hawk says:

    Eple, This problem has been going on at Flickr for four years now. And management simply will not address it in any substantive way whatsoever. Rather than deal with real and important issues by Flickr users, Flickr/Yahoo would rather just joke around, have a bar in the office, make videos of themselves doing stupid things etc.

    The frivolity with which Flickr conducts business while simultaneously screwing over users with these account deletions makes the margarita dig very much apropos. I don’t begrudge them having a good time and drinking with the Yahoo Product Chief, but when this comes in place of more important issues and our concerns are trivialized, I think it’s good to bring it up.

  12. Steve says:

    What a great example to convince current and prospect Flickr customers to depart and find another photo hosting site, like Zenfolio, dbase and Smugmug.

  13. William Beem says:

    There is really no reason to delete any account. Most everyone else who works in IT knows to deactivate an account, not delete it. When you delete an account and the data that goes with it, you remove any possibility of conducting an investigation. In this case, the allegation was against someone who may have stolen Mr. Wilhelm’s images. Theft calls for a investigation, and may even present an opportunity for filing suit against a copyright infringer if Mr. Wilhelm registered his photos.

    I can’t believe that the operations staff at Flickr & Yahoo are this reckless, but they’ve proven a lack of professionalism time and again.

  14. Rob says:

    Seriously. You’re telling me that a huge corporation that deals with sensitive data for personal and business use on a day-to-day business does not have a disaster recovery and backup of data (whether on-site or remotely) to be able to restore the data?! Please. That is utterly ridiculous. It sounds like a HUGE cop-out.

  15. Sorry to hear it.

    How come this could be happen in Flickr, too fragile to be trust. I believe if its happen to me, I can pay times more to get my photos back.
    The problems is not for the money, people need something convenience and reliable.

  16. Lu Logic says:

    Wow… A photographers life work gone. I have thought about using Flickr. After reading this post I just may not do so. It’s a good thing I keep all my photography work backed up on a separate drive and “cloud” web storage.

  17. Rob says:

    This is really hard to believe and hard to ignore. I just renewed my Yahoo Small Business hosting and I am starting to think it was a mistake.

    Yahoo is starting to be a case study in how to destroy billions in shareholder value.

    Google or Microsoft should seize on this as a business opportunity. They are the only ones big enough to do this right now. Google could instantly be a major player in the stock photo business if they could buy flickr.

  18. This looks like a sad case of “you get what you pay for”. I wouldn’t count on Flickr for any serious photo hosting, even at the “Pro” level. Still, Yahoo should be held accountable for having such egregious practices that they would immediately and completely delete all records from an account rather than deactivating or freezing it for a period of time first.

  19. Yahoo employee says:

    Iam an yahoo employee and right now we have a backup of the data that we are restoring the photos from. The user should have all the photos back in the next day or so.

  20. Jason says:

    I really thing it’s time for the community to up and find a new home. The way yahoo is treating flickr is unthinkable. For the free users, like me, I would have to say it is reasonable to expect yahoo to pull the plug on my account for now reason and no warning. However, the paid pro users??? NO WAY. Really, what is the point in paying for a service that will treat you this way. As has been brought up in this blog many times, the right way to treat it is to lock an account for a period of time before deleting it. Also, I am just appalled at the level of censorship of the community. Not letting users voice opinions or complaints. It’s almost like a communist country where dissenters quietly disappear.

  21. Surat says:

    If they really wanted to make up for it, they would buy him four years of Pro service for a *different* photo hosting site.

  22. Jason says:

    Awesome, Mirco’s story made it into the city newspaper. Wake up and take notice Yahoo….your practices are getting noticed!

    http://blogs.chron.com/techblog/archives/2011/02/4000_flickr_photos_deleted_a_cautionary_tale.html

  23. What if… we just take over the Flickr?

    It already work, It’s already social, It’s already there.

    We just need better management and I’m up to it. ;)

    Sure, it need a few adjustment like a good backup system (premium), a clear censorship policy, a clear rules of engagement etc.

    But as far as I’m concern, we can make it work? no?

    My first move will be to nominate you, Thomas, on the management board. ;)

  24. Photoswarm says:

    Try http://www.photoswarm.com. We won’t delete your photos!

  25. cj gordon says:

    Ipernity does something similar to what you’re describing Thomas. When your account is flagged you get a chance to straighten things out first. Now if the little guy can come up with a solution to this what the hell is Mr.Bigs problem. Margaritas could be the answer. My bet is just booze in general.

  26. hp says:

    Couldn’t care less about someones 4000 pictures! If someone is stupid enough to keep a pile of **** on a third party disk somewhere in a cloud, this is just what could happen…

  27. Rich Maher says:

    Why didn’t he have a backup somewhere? Hard drive, CD’s, Online service? Sounds like he learned a lesson the hard way. BACK UP!!!

  28. I would have thought a non-destructive “delete an account” would be deployed first i.e simply a matter of setting an ‘account_active’ flag to 0. Restoring the account just reverses the account_active flag to 1. Boggling that they push the destructive delete button and actually remove files from the filesystem.